Saturday, August 28, 2021

I do my best writing when I'm angry.

I do my best writing when I'm angry, and I don't really like being angry.  Go figure.  So, a lot of what I write stays in draft folders and journals because it feels mean, and it isn't particularly helpful to anyone but me.  Some of you somehow combine mean and funny (kudos to you!), but I seem to only be able to combine mean and direct.  This does not seem to be the best combination to compel others, and it reads as self-righteous (and likely is).  

I'm trying to learn to distinguish between righteous anger and unrighteous anger in my life.  I know the difference in definition; it's the application part that gets me.  Also, I seem to be able to combine the two at times.  Is that helpful?  Maybe.  But what is my motivation?  Helping or shaming others? 

Righteous anger is typically anger on behalf of others, anger that sees injustice, anger that wants better for the marginalized.  Unrighteous anger seeks to score points and—indirectly or directly—hopes to shame others.  I'm not really interested in doing that.  Well, if I'm honest, I am a little bit interested in doing that (shaming jerks), but again, it's not really helpful.  It simply encourages me to congratulate myself for not being a jerk (when I'm maybe being a jerk).  Go away irony!  

It's good to write because no matter my feelings or motivations, writing helps me understand what I think and why I think it.  And even if I'm being a jerk, it's good to write the jerkiness down, but it is probably not good to share it with anyone but God.  Maybe it should only be a whiny lament to God, who will no doubt help me see better and through a lens of grace; rather than a whiny rant to you (and everyone!  this is the world wide web!) that is helpful to no one.

So, I'm trying to develop a list of questions for myself that will guide what I post.  Here goes:

  • What is my goal here?  
  • Am I trying to help bring peace, or am I trying to be clever?
  • Am I helping or hurting?
  • Am I trying to shame a jerk or am I being a jerk (or both)?
  • Is this a prayer of lament meant only for God?

I'm working on this.  I haven't really figured it out, but I'll keep trying.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Gravedigging Pastors

Job descriptions for pastors are a fascinating read. It can be difficult to understand what we do. I get that; but some of the most meaningful work pastors do can't be described on a list.

Tonight I'm thinking of a pastor who helped dig a grave to cut expenses for a family. Funerals can be costly, and not everyone can cobble the funds together to make it happen.

This pastor made it happen.

Pastors are not perfect (not even close!), but some of the best are serving in the early morning hours, before you arrive at the gravesite, before you eat the casserole at the reception. They dig because they love. The best pastors serve humbly out of love.

Never have I seen 'gravedigger' on a job description, and yet this is a pastor who reminds me of Jesus.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

My Ordination Can Get a Learner's Permit

This week I'm celebrating the anniversary of my baptism (28 years) and my ordination (15 years).  My baptism can rent a car and my ordination can get a learner's permit, so some reminiscing felt in order.

To prepare for baptism, I got a new outfit at Walmart.  It was peach, white, and light blue and had a matching peach bucket hat (I blame Ug from 'Salute Your Shorts').  The outfit was important to me because we were baptized in our plain-clothes.  I'm a robe-wearing baptizer now, but I like the idea of a plain-clothes baptism—that we die to our regular, 24/7 bucket-hat wearing selves.

Making a profession of faith was a big deal to me.  It wasn't a brave decision; I grew up in the buckle of the Bible Belt (!), but it did feel weighty.  I now know this initial faith decision was preparing me for the next weighty decision 14 years later:  Ordination to gospel ministry.  Knowing no examples of ordained women growing up, I could've scarcely imagined participating in the laying on of hands, much less receiving them.  

But look at God.

My ordination was joyful, but again—weighty.  I have a distinct memory of feeling the heaviness of friends' and family's hands on my head.  What an apt picture of ministry!  So then, having graduated with my Master of Divinity and having survived the ordination council of Calvary Baptist (!), I was then as ready as I could be to begin at Memorial Baptist in Arlington, VA.  

15 years of Christian vocational ministry feels like the right amount, with 3 distinct seasons of serving the Lord.  Each year has been weighty and joyful, full of challenge, fun, doubt, celebration, beauty, and friendship.  I am grateful.  

The most meaningful moments of ministry have been those when I am completely, 100% dependent upon God in the thin places between heaven and earth:  Praying with hospice patients, cradling newborn babies and blessing them, singing with beloved friends in the ICU, sitting with church members as they mourn or doubt, baptizing adults and children new to faith, preaching my own fears and joys.  

In this season, I'm working on relying on God more; for that's when the weight provides meaning instead of stress.  It's taken awhile to learn this.  I still have much to learn, and yet miraculously God gives me opportunities to shepherd those along the way in my current role.  I am still surprised when ministers and friends, often older and wiser, ask for guidance.  It is humbling and weighty and joyful.

I am grateful today for family, friends, and mentors who teach me about Jesus and light the way.  My parents, brothers, and sisters-in-law are dear to me, and bend over backwards to support and love me.  Thank you.  Thank you to all the churches who've been part of my journey.  Each one has blessed me:  Beaver Dam Baptist (KY), Faith Baptist (KY), Calvary Baptist (TX), Memorial Baptist (VA), Scottsville Baptist (VA), and Church at Clarendon (VA).

And most importantly, thanks be to God.

Friday, February 12, 2021

My Uncle Tom

In November, my Uncle Tom had COVID which developed into double pneumonia.  He miraculously recovered and was able to go home, but eventually his health took a turn for the worse and he died on Wednesday.  

I didn't know Uncle Tom was different until I was older.  I only knew he liked to play with toys, and enjoyed coloring with Ben and me.  Slowly I began to understand Tom had special needs.  I don't remember it being spelled out for me; I only remember he was family and that we loved him.

Tom loved his sisters and his parents.  Tom worked for 40 years at a tape factory with his dad.  He liked Batman.  Dairy Queen Dilly Bars were his favorite; Dad would take a bag full to Tom and his friends.  Often we'd visit Tom when I was home for Christmas, and he was either in a great mood or a not-great mood (I can relate). Either way we'd end up getting ice cream.

I am thinking of Tom this evening, and I wanted to tell you about him.  I am grateful for Tom's life, and for my parents for loving him.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

40 Favorite Birthday Memories

I once did an entire sermon series on the number 40.  It's everywhere.  Jesus fasted for 40 days.  Moses was atop Mt. Sinai for 40 days.  Jesus ascended 40 days after his resurrection from the dead.  The Israelites wandered for 40 years. 

In scripture 40 signals a kind of change:  After 40 days, the devil departed, Moses left Mt. Sinai, and Jesus ascended.  After 40 years the promised land was within sight.

Maybe that's why turning 40 feels so significant.  What kind of change will it mean for me?

I don't know, but I do know 40 began with a bang thanks to my family, my pastor friends, my DC friends, and my work friends.  Cliché alert:  The best things in life aren't things.  Relationship with God and relationship with others is it.  Nothing compares.  

I'm not sure what's ahead, but I am sure these people, these relationships will continue to enrich my life.  Here are 40 favorite memories to share with you from October 2020:

  • Celebrating Mary Dee, Eleanor, and Aunt Katie in Kentucky.  Eating cake made by my sister-in-law Jaime.
  • Socially-distanced dining with my parents in Kentucky.

  • Finding my Mom's Master's Thesis in the attic.  Major props, Pat. 

    • Kourtney popped on down to Beaver Dam while I was in Kentucky because she is an all-star friend.  Here she is with a slotted spoon of her brother's.
    • Surprise Harry Potter dinner with my pastor pals.  Gah.  I love them.  

    • The decor was nothing short of inspiring.  Shout out Dianna.
    • The snacks were adorable.  Have yourself a golden snitch.
    • Bruce baked this cake from scratch and Alessandra added the Harry Potter lettering.  That chocolate frosting is the best I've tasted.

    • Birthday lunch with these all-stars who have dropped everything to help me numerous times. We ate cake (see above) that I put in my trunk for safe-keeping (trunk cake).
    • Later that day I forgot about the cake and it...did not survive the trunk.  Sorry trunk cake.
    • En route to a work destination I stayed with Bruce and Alessandra in Culpeper.  I also convinced Laura and Kenny to bring their brand new RV and park it in Bruce and Alessandra's yard.  IT WAS AMAZING.
    • Jam session at Bruce and Alessandra's house (in masks!)
    • Alessandra and Bruce welcome me into their home no less than 4 nights per month as I travel throughout Virginia.  They listen, cook for me, and are two of my favorite people.
    • Voting.  Waited 102 minutes.  Worth every one.
    • Aunt Mary sent me these socks.
    • I wrote almost 40 entries about turning 40.  It was a good exercise.  I like to write, and it was good to focus on gratitude.  Sometimes it's been difficult to be thankful (especially this year).
    • Friends sent and gave me the most thoughtful gifts.  Thanks Smiths and Tiff/Tif.
    • My nieces called me to sing Happy Birthday
    • I am loving early morning walks with Brooke in DC.  We see and hear history.  It's cold, but we talk, talk, talk (just like West Wing).  It's one of my favorite new traditions.

    • In early October I went to a Facebook ColorStreet Nail Party and had the best time.  It was so much fun, so I am hosting one myself.  I'm posting live videos like they're going out of style.  Join us.
    • Brooke, Mary, Artemia, and Cindy organized an AMAZING, Covid-respecting gathering and parade.  It was incredibly meaningful.  I could cry just typing about it.  There were cards from all over the country (THANK YOU) and a parade of friends from Memorial Baptist, the church that loved and grew me up as a pastor.  Here's the beginning of the party where I thought just a few of us (masked and on a porch!) were dressing up Disney style for some cake.  Donald Duck (AJ) and Ariel (Katie) enjoy some cheese (Katie) and drooling (AJ).
    • Brooke says "Let's go outside and take pictures!  The light is good!"  Brooke always says this so we all hop up.  Look at this sweet picture of Brooke and her hubby Jason.  
    • A pic with the children of my friends.  Gah.  It's like loving little versions of your favorite people.  Please note Ariel's (Ellie's) dinglehopper (fork).
    • Then surprise a parade started.  All Ariel knew to do was wave.  So much love from my friends.  Oh my.
    • The cars were decorated FABULOUSLY.  This one started the parade.  It was, after all, the one year anniversary of the Nats winning the World Series.  What a joy to see this couple.  I read scripture at their wedding (10?) years ago!

    • These friends helped me find a place to live when I moved back to northern Virginia.  We've been through thick and thin.  We also share a love for the Nats.
    • These friends are dear to me.  They're gifted with hospitality and humor (among other things).  Randi, Mary, and I took a trip to NYC in November and it was the best.  

    • This is when the tears began flowing.  Colleen made a poster with a picture of Pete on it.  We lost Pete not too long ago.  I know he would've been at the parade--yelling something hilarious and wanting to talk politics no doubt.  I miss him.  Adam, Pete's son, is in the car.  He was a senior in the youth group at Memorial Baptist when I started there, and returned to mentor youth after graduating college.  
    • The Hernandez family is dear to me, though you cannot tell by this picture.  Jesse dressed as Ursula, so we had to play the part.
    • Sally and I served together for 6 years at Memorial Baptist.  I was at the hospital when Elias was born, and Emmelia has come to visit in Scottsville.  I loved serving alongside Sally
    • Hannah and Jessica arrived in style--the style of a mermaid appearing outside of a Honda Civic sunroof.  I love it.

    • The Hills, Charlotte Benjamin, and others (forgive me if I have forgotten others!) also rolled on by.  It was a gift to see everyone.  My first roommate in Arlington, Andrea Lupo, and her husband Jeff Morrow paraded by too.  I married them a year-and-a-half ago!  More happiness.

    • You'll see this picture twice, because the first time I want to highlight the Piñatagram.  It came in the mail and was filled with candy.  GOOD CANDY.  Thanks Kudners.
    • Artemia, Sally, and I started at Memorial in 2006.  What a joy to share 14 years of friendship with them.

    • Snow White (Mary), Bruno (Jon), Ariel (Ellie), and Belle (Katherine) hosted us.  They made a lovely charcuterie board, and Jon and the girls decorated the back porch.  Everything was perfect.  Mary is such a good person.
    • Elsa (Cindy) made the cake, crackers, and cauliflower soup from scratch.  All delicious.  Cindy Schall is one of the best.  Don't forget it.
    • Here I am with said cake.  Let me tell you about it:  One white cake layer, one raspberry cake layer, and another white cake layer.  Chocolate mousse held it all together.  The top and sides were buttercream, and dark chocolate dots decorated the top.  Cindy had a Disney printout with my name (!!!) and age on it.  Spectacular.  These people hummed Happy Birthday to me.  Artemia spoke the words.
    • We went back inside and Brooke had created a video of pictures and kind words from family and friends.  Again, waterworks.  "Brooke!  My best friend!  It's my best friend!"
    • Party's Over.  I thought it was 10:00p and it was time to go so I started to leave.  It was 7:50.  I think their love, gifts, and grace were so wonderful I was overwhelmed.  They have teased me mercilessly since (as they should).
    • This is a stack of posters and cards from all over the nation.  Again, thanks to my friends I felt the love from so many people.  Thank you, friends.

    Thank you friends and family.  Thank you.

    Thursday, May 7, 2020

    When He Called My Friend the N-word

    Pam and I have been friends for 13 years.  We’ve taken at least a dozen sermon-writing retreats together until Pam had the nerve to retire and move to the beach (where—by the way—she and her lovely husband have hosted my entire family for 2 vacations).  I miss those sermon retreats.  We laughed, cried, and sought the Lord together.

    Pam is a gift-giver.  If she’s your friend, you know this.  She MacGyvers her way into your personal info and regularly surprises you. This is TMI, but this post is vulnerability-city for me so here goes:  One time we were talking undergarments and how the best, supportive, and most lovely brands are so expensive—my favorite brand in particular. Pam took note and for years picked up my favorite brand for me…just because she delights in giving people extravagant gifts.  The extravagance is an expression of her love. 

    Years ago on my birthday Pam wanted to treat me for lunch so we agreed to meet halfway.  I selected a small restaurant—it seemed to have local flair—and was excited to see Pam.  We arrived near the same time and walked in together, and I kid you not people stared at us uninterrupted for 30 seconds.  Eventually I waved at the people to break their gaze.  I shrugged it off and we sat down at a booth.  The waitress brought our menus and I excused myself to the bathroom.  As I was returning to our table, a man looked at me and said it:  

    The n-word.

    He said it loud and clear for all to hear.

    I stopped, gritted my teeth, and felt anger course through my body. I don’t know if I’ve ever been that angry.  I stood and stared at him—returning the gaze we'd been given as we entered the restaurant.  And thenI’m ashamed to say—I grew afraid of him.  He was a big man with a posse of people at his table, so I looked away and returned to our booth having said nothing.  I am still ashamed.  

    And then the craziest thing happened. 

    A woman seated at the man's table came over to our booth.  She sat down with Pam and me.  She said nothing to Pam, but apologized—to me—for the man having said the word.  “He wasn’t talking about you,” she said, as if this somehow absolved him, as if it was okay to use the n-word as long as it didn’t apply to present company.  

    Later I told Pam what the man said and her response gutted me.

    “That’s normal,” she said. 

    I didn’t know this.  I should have, but I didn’t.

    I grieved the rest of the day.  I cried, felt shame, and obsessed over what I should or could have done differently. 

    That day opened my eyes.  I didn’t want to believe people could be so cruel, but that’s just naïve and likely a result of my privilege as a white person. 

    I’m sorry. 

    Since then I’ve learned more about blatant racism, and also the myriad of micro-aggressions coddled by our culture. I’m still learning.

    Why do I tell you this now? I cannot stop thinking about Ahmaud Arbery.

    Did you know black families are afraid to let their sons and daughters jog in the street for fear someone might think they’re a burglar AND SHOOT THEM?

    This is their normal.

    That should break our hearts and lead us to action.  What is your action?  What is mine? I’m praying God will show me the way.  Will you join me in that prayer?

    Friday, April 17, 2020

    The Trouble With Angels

    If you were to rewind to my childhood, you'd find a couple of worn out VHS tapes.  Chief among them was The Trouble with Angels, a funny and insightful movie about calling.  The surprise ending reveals the imperfect protagonist Mary (Hayley Mills) is called to ministry.

    Mary is a precocious teenager sent off to Catholic boarding school.  Mary and her friend Rachel are thick as thieves.  They pull pranks, smoke in the bathroom, and wreak hilarious havoc on nuns and students alike.  Not even Mary's cousin Marvel-Ann (awesome name) is spared.

    As Mary matures so does her sense of calling, and the patient Reverend Mother helps Mary listen to God.  But even still Mary's calling sneaks up on her.  It's a poignant picture of the sometimes surprising nature of call.  Happily The Trouble with Angels taught young, Protestant Katie that God calls all kinds of people to do God's work: the silly, serious, mischievous, extroverted, introverted, young, old, confident, unassuming, people we expect and others who make our jaws drop.  If you don't believe me there is a book I might suggest.

    This book is the Bible.

    My scripture reading this morning was the disciples' miraculous catch of fish. Here's the comedy:  They caught 153 fish, the seasoned fishermen took advice from a "stranger," and SURPRISE the "stranger" is Jesus.  A bunch of funny details led to revelation and calling.

    "Angel" Katie McKown
    In The Trouble with Angels funny details lead to revelation and calling.  Mary's pranks reveal a zest for life (helpful in ministry!), and her growing admiration for the sisters helps midwife a sacred vocation in her own life.

    And in my life a movie about a budding, sassy nun in Catholic boarding school helped reveal my call to ministry.  There's a reason I wore out this VHS, and even as a girl I think I knew God was stirring a calling within me.

    Thanks be to God for the funny details.